The Empire Hotel, Annandale, NSW - Friday August 26, 2005

Theorists will have it that there's a virtuous cycle in rock and roll, where wave after wave of young and exciting bands rise up and kill off the old, using new and interesting styles of music that critics conveniently categorise as genres.


There's nothing new. It's all slight variations on the same themes (love, sex, death, taxes). The cream that rises to the top somehow defines itself through being more interesting, dynamic, mysterious or honest than the rest.

The four bands on the bill at the Empire fit are part of the latter reality. To varying degrees, their feet are planted firmly in the past
and they're not afraid to declare that it's from there that they draw inspiration. At the same time, they each add their own touches, not really trying to fit in.

First to the openers and King Felix have been kicking around for a couple of years, filling support spots. Tonight's the first time I've
heard them through a decent sound system and it's an ear opener. Their songs are nice and basic, straight-up rock blues. Ned really summons up some sparks on lead guitar and is backed by a super solid crew. Carl Ekkman's bass playing has always been a pleasure to hear/feel. He reckons they're too old and ugly to interest any record company. Bullshit, I say again. Someone record these guys now.

Mink Jaguar is a three-piece that I haven't seen before but want to catch again. Theirs is a mixed grill of beefy cuts and A-grade mince. To continue the analogy, they don't butcher anything and really have their chops down. Two brothers on bass and drums, and another guy on twangy guitar and voice, they draw from a well populated by Chuck, Little Richard and the Five (sans ramalama trappings). It's good rockin' tonight with a '50s ultra twist. These boys are determinedly rockist and you could probably dance to 'em too. Quite a few people do.

The Intercontinental Playboys are nothing if not veterans, which should be a good thing in most peoples' books. If you had to generalise, you'd approximate that they play a hybrid brand of fuzz-box rockabilly with acid punk flourishes. You'd also have to say that it's seriously good stuff and uniquely done.

This town often lacks a sense of style in its retro rock so Tom Loncar stands above most up-front frontmen. Guitarist Ben summons up fuzztone like few others in Sydney, but it's Richard's rock solid beat that's the unsung hero of the piece, anchoring the whole shebang and (more importantly) imparting the drive to get arses off chairs/feet moving.

And, of course, the current crop of songs, which are a real advance on earlier sets. From where I was, Mick's keys were a little nowhere in the mix (which becomes an issue when they're filling out the bottom end). Methinks it's time for a new album and to see these Playboys jet off to play shows in exotic locations.

It was fitting that the headliners flew in that day from Melbourne. If you're a Lord of Gravity why would you drive? Jetstar are a bunch of Nazis when it comes to check-in times and unallocated seating sucks, but at least budget airlines give bands the ways and means of getting around, provided there's a borrowed amp or three at the other end.

If the Playboys are vets, these guys are as old as the WWI air warfare videos showing on the venue's big screen, with roots in the Seminal Rats, Crusaders, Freeloaders et al. (In case you're wondering about the videos, their debut album "Contact", the slick features all four members in authentic aviator gear.) Before you level charges of ageism, I'll add that it's the experience of the pilot in the dogfight that makes all the difference.

This is about as authentic as '60s punk gets, down to the choice of valve amps and relatively obscure covers, and there ain't nothing wrong with that. The point is that the Lords lord it over any number of younger bands, on the strength of their superb playing and songs.

While his cult hero status won't pay his strings bill, Ian Wettenhall's right up there as a hard-as-nails bassplayer and vocalist of gravel road texture. Guitarist-co-vocalist Evan Miller works so well on his his allocated tunes, despite a frightening resemblance to a former NSW Racing Minister, as the guys churn out most, if not all, of the songs from "Contact". There's a slightly heavier feel to the material live than on record (naturally enough when there's no acoustic guitar to be seen). It's a little more straight ahead than the stuff their immediate forebears The Hands of Tyme used to roll out, but it's eminently enjoyable.